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Mayor wants Prince to open D-Day site

Royal visit could make up for ‘upset’ after Charles could not honour village where 92 British paratroops are buried

NORMANDY mayor Olivier Paz is confident "Prince Charles will visit Merville" after the disappointment of hearing he will not mark next month's D-Day commemorations at the site where 92 British paratroopers died on June 6, 1944.

Mr Paz had understood after talks with the Parachute Regiment that Prince Charles, their Colonel-in-Chief, would visit Merville-Franceville and, after months of preparations, he said they were “intensely disappointed and upset" when told it would not happen.

Now, after a visit to London to meet Parachute Regiment commander Lt Gen Jonathan Page and the prince’s Private Secretary, William Nye, he said he and Mr Nye had “agreed to work towards arranging a visit within the next 18 months” perhaps for the opening of a new paratroop museum.

The Merville gun battery was the scene of fierce fighting on D-Day and 92 soldiers from the 9th Battalion Parachute Regiment are buried there. Mr Paz said: "We consider that this corner of France is British because of the amount of British blood spilled into the earth here.”

He has an OBE for his services to the memory of the British soldiers and has preserved the gun battery, opened exhibitions and displays and founded the annual June 5 memorial ceremony. When Merville veterans die, he sends a small quantity of earth from the commune to be buried with them.

Mr Paz said: "We love the British here in Merville. Last autumn we were discussing with the Parachute Regiment which VIP guests to invite to the 70th anniversary ceremony, including Prince Charles. After all, as Colonel-in-Chief of the Parachute Regiment, he visits a D-Day site every June.

“He's already been to everywhere else. We're the only place he's never visited. So when the Parachute Regiment sent us an exceptionally detailed questionnaire, we were certain the visit was confirmed. But when they sent the plan to Clarence House, they said it wouldn't be possible."

Mr Paz said that Mr Nye had been “very helpful”. He added: “He assured me that Prince Charles has not forgotten Merville, and in fact regrets very much that he cannot visit this year.

“And we agreed to work towards arranging a visit within the next 18 months. Obviously it will have to be a grand occasion; he won't come just to see us open a tube of toothpaste. But we are opening a new museum soon, dedicated to the exploits of the Parachute Regiment, and as their Colonel-in-Chief, I think it would be appropriate for him to open it.

"I now have personal contacts at Clarence House and even the mobile phone number of Prince Charles' right-hand man, and now everyone knows the history of Merville. We are properly on the map, and I'm sure Prince Charles will visit."

A Clarence House Spokesperson said that they would not comment on the possibility of a future visit and added: "A visit to Merville Battery has never been part of the official programme for the Prince of Wales's visit to Normandy on June 5 and 6.

“Their Royal Highnesses' (TRH) programme has been drawn up in close consultation with veteran organisations and their regiments to ensure that TRH are able to meet as many veterans as is possible within their two-day visit. Their Royal Highnesses' programme for Normandy is focused on honouring the Fallen and Veterans, particularly those from the Commonwealth and the regiments with which they are affiliated.

"The Prince of Wales is undertaking seven engagements on Thursday June 5 of which five are being hosted by the Parachute Regiment of which the Prince of Wales is Colonel in Chief.

“The engagements include a lunch in Ranville hosted by The Parachute Regiment, to which all their Normandy Veterans are being invited, including those who fought at Merville Battery. Around ten local mayors have also been invited including the Mayor of Merville Franceville."

The June printed edition of Connexion has a 16-page
special supplement on D-Day, including interviews with
special agents and veterans. It will be on sale from Friday across France
or call Nathalie on 06 40 61 71 97 to have a copy sent to you (P&P extra).

Photo: Dan Marsh

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